Victoria Tennant is Mrs. Steve Martin, but you wouldn't want to address her that way. Behind all the beauty, those classic features, is a very strong woman, an actress with very definite ideas and very definite goals.
She met Martin when both did "All of Me" seven years ago. They're now appearing in "L.A. Story," a comedy that opens here on Friday. Tennant plays an English journalist who meets a TV weatherman when she is visiting Los Angeles. As Sara, a reporter for the London Times, Tennant wears a lot of different, colorful hats.
"I don't know whose idea those were," she said. "Movies are such a collaborative affair, it is difficult to know where ideas arise. I do wear hats. I'm very fair, so I wear them to protect myself from the sun. I don't like to see women with tans. They look like driving gloves with a lot of straw on top."
While she is delighted to work with her husband, Tennant is aware that "there are almost no strong movie roles for women on the screen.
"I'm writing," she said. "I am doing several scripts. I am working with a lady producer, my partner. I have written some really good parts for women."
She won't take part in the films as an actress. "As executive producer, I want to give the projects my full attention in that capacity," she said. "If were to act in them, I might not be able to do that. I won't have any great parts, but you can bet other actresses will."
Tell her that Barbra Streisand has done well, and she asks you when her last film was released.
Tell her that Meryl Streep has done well in film after film, and she agrees. "But there are almost no great parts for women," she said.
How about the prostitute in "Pretty Woman?"
"Well, if you count ridiculous parts like a hooker," she said. "It's a great part if you can believe that kind of rubbish. Do you really believe that any hooker is a happy, well-adjusted woman, is non-addicted to drugs and does not come from a dysfunctional family? Do you really believe she can meet a millionaire and leave with him in his private plane?
"That's a fairy tale, a male fantasy. The girl is intrinsically a lie. The role of that hooker is a big fat lie. Why couldn't she have been a girl who works in a department store?"
They may not have been able to meet as cute as they did.
"Of course, they could," said Tennant. "He could have approached her in the store. If the character succeeded, it was because of Julia Roberts. She has enormous charm and appeal. If the girl had been a clerk in a department store, the film would have been so much more accurate. Why is it necessary to write a lie when you could choose an alternative and have the same story?"
Would you have taken the role if they had offered it to you?
"I don't know," said Tennant. "It would depend on where the role was at the time it was offered. The movie was a vast change from the original script. In the original, he said goodbye to her, left her on an island in the middle of the street, and she stood there crying. That would have been closer to the truth."
Tennant was born in England, the daughter of Cecil Tennant, an agent, and Irina Baronova, a prima ballerina with the Ballet Russe. Baronova also did a few shows on Broadway and a few films, then abandoned her career to raise three children.
"You can't be a ballerina and have children, too, and you don't last that long," said Tennant. "Some do, but most don't, and my mother stopped before the dancing stopped her."
According to Tennant, Martin took four years to write the screenplay for the new film, and there was never any question that she would play the leading lady. "The script was written for me and Steve," she said.
She has lived in Italy and France and worked for a time in Germany. She speaks three languages. "I took Latin in school. That helped me learn Italian and French, and German is not terribly mystifying."
She did television and films in England and, in 1980, came to the United States to do "Winds of War" for television. She also did "War and Remembrance," the sequel to it.
She decided to stay here after she did "All of Me."
"I decided then that this is where the work is," she said. "I do, however, return to England to work. I've done several television series there."
She is immensely pleased with the new film, one that kids Los Angeles and its varied lifestyles.
"I think it is the most original screenplay I have seen in years," she said. "It is completely original in style and the ideas it expresses. It's also a many-layered thing. It's a great, silly rejoicing comedy, one that includes a whacking great romance. It has some very touching and profound things to say about people in love.
"Steve isn't really putting anyone or anything down in the film," she said. That's one of the lovely things about his humor. It is never awkward. He never makes anyone the butt of his humor. It's teasing, the way you might tease a friend, someone you know really well. It is done with affection. It's just good fun."